In the previous article, we talked about what defines Oolong tea, as well as Oolong tea's main varieties split by growing region. Today, we'll focus on brewing requirements and how they impact Oolong tea taste. We'll also highlight some signature Oolong teas - like Dan Cong Oolong and Yancha - and see what makes them unique and sought after. Ready? Let's dive in!
In between – Oolong tea vs Green tea and Oolong tea vs Black tea (Hong cha)
The production process of Oolong tea places it in between the unoxidized Green tea and fully oxidized Black tea. Its taste and aroma also reflect that. In fact, there are Oolong teas whose tasting experience is closer to green tea and those closer to black tea. Where does that difference come from?
Since Oolong tea is partially oxidized, it retains a certain freshness and liveliness. It will always remain lighter and more refreshing than the fully oxidized Hong Cha. Still, the same partial oxidation provides the sweet, nectary notes we otherwise find in black tea. Oolong thus is a tea that unites both in a fresh, yet mellow, lively, yet sweet tasting experience.
How to prepare Oolong tea
Regardless of their growing region, Oolong teas brew best at temperatures above 90°C / 195ºF. The Chinese advise using boiling water (95°C / 205ºF and up). Indeed, when doing traditional Gong Fu Cha tea brewing sessions, people in China would use boiling water when brewing Oolong tea. It helps the broader tea leaves from which Oolong is made to soak fully, releasing their rich inner content. It also helps the complex aroma to fully develop and makes the taste more intense.
Teaware impact on Dan Cong and Yancha Oolong tea
Picking the right teaware is important in order to fully enjoy the wonderful taste and aroma of Oolong tea. In a Gong Fu Cha tea session, people often use smaller teapots with wide bottoms and thinner walls to brew Oolong. That is particularly true for lighter, aromatic Dan Cong Oolong tea.
In Guangdong, one of the most beloved shapes is the pear-shaped teapot. Its wider bottom allows the tea leaves to expand and unfurl fully. At the same time, the taller and more narrow top part concentrates and preserves the intense aroma of the tea. The thinner walls ensure good heat distribution without overheating the tender leaves.
For darker, more robust Fujian Oolongs (like Yancha), shorter, flat-bottomed teapots with thicker walls are a good match. They ensure the tea leaves are well distributed at the bottom. The thick walls provide good heat retention that these Oolong teas need to release best their taste and aroma.
If you are looking for the right teaware for your Oolong, consider the following:
Lighter, more fresh Oolongs: e.g., Dan Cong Oolong, Taiwan Oolong:
- Small teapot with wide bottom and thin walls
Thicker, more robust Oolongs: e.g., Wuyi Oolong (Yancha):
- Teapot with a flat bottom and thick walls
Purple clay (Zi Sha, 紫砂) and Purple mud (Zi Ni, 紫泥) are among the best materials for a teapot for both Dancong and Yancha Oolong. The excellent heat retention properties of these clays help to maintain an optimal temperature for the tea leaves to unfold and steep well. Guangdong has a number of local red clay varieties, also widely used for making Gong Fu Cha teapots.
Signature Oolong teas
The variety of tastes and aroma types in Oolongs is astounding: from the nectary sweet, flowery Dancong Oolongs in Guangdong to the thick, robust, coffee-like Fujian Yancha. Let's explore some of the signature teas that earned the nickname "perfume of teas" for the Oolong tea category:
Mi Lan Xiang Dancong Oolong
Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong tea translates to Honey Orchid Dan Cong Oolong. It belongs to the Ten main fragrance types. Mi Lan Xiang is one of the most well-known Dan Cong teas, part of the "Flower Aroma" collection. It has a honey-sweet flavor with notes of orchid and iris that intensifies with each brew. This beloved Dan Cong variety grows on the Phoenix (Fenghuang) mountain in Guandong. Today, this aromatic Oolong is grown everywhere in the Chao Shan region, even though its designated area of origin is in and around Wudong village.
"Dan Cong" means "single bush" or "single tree" in Chinese. Indeed, a Dancong oolong tea garden doesn't have much in common with a standard tea garden. The usual tea garden anywhere in the world has short, neatly trimmed bushes in straight rows. In Chaozhou, a typical Dan Cong tea garden is where tea trees grow mostly untended, in a semi-wild state. Tea farmers don't use pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides for their trees and largely do not trim them. From their feedback, this gives the tea leaves an unmatched sweetness both in taste and aroma. That's why Dancong plants are mostly trees rather than bushes. Some of them might grow as tall as 16 feet!
"Duck Shit" Ya Shi Xiang Dancong Oolong
Another firm favorite both in China and abroad, Ya Shi Xiang translates as the not-so-poetic "duck shit". Luckily, this name has nothing to do with the reality. Ya Shi Xiang might easily be one of the sweetest and most refined tea aromas you'll ever get to try.
A legend has it that a certain farmer got to create a tea with a remarkable aroma and taste. Worried that his fellow villagers might steal his secret, he named it "duck shit aroma" to dissipate unwanted interest. This Dan Cong Oolong has a fresh and sweet taste, with a slight gardenia aroma. It gives a rounded, mellow mouthfeel with roasted notes and a long, lingering aftertaste. The best Ya Shi Xiang grows in the high mountainous areas of Phoenix mountain in the Chaoshan area of Guangdong.
Shui Jin Gui Wu Yi Oolong (Yancha)
Fujian Oolong teas are among the most expensive and cherished Oolong teas in China and beyond. And for a good reason! The unique soil of Wu Yi mountain, rich in minerals, gave birth to an unmistakable "rock flavor", or "Yan Yun" (岩韵), for which "Golden Water Turtle" Shui Jin Gui Oolong Tea is famous. In a nutshell, the term "Rock flavor" refers to the terroir's specifics and how they impact the tea soup taste. It is a highly sought feature of authentic Wu Yi Cha and a sure sign of a premium, high mountain tea.
Shui Jin Gui is a well-known Wuyi Oolong tea. It belongs to the "Four great bushes" of Northern Fujian Rock tea, along with Da Hong Pao (Big red robe), Tie Luo Han (Iron Arhat), and Bai Ji Guan (White cockscomb). Farmers roast the leaves three times over a wood charcoal fire to produce a wonderfully smooth, medium roast Yancha. Yet, compared to other medium-roasted Fujian oolongs, it tastes unexpectedly sweet and mellow. While sipping Shui Jin Gui, notes of peach, exotic florals, and dark chocolate will emerge over a base of wood and frankincense.
The core production area of Shui Jin Gui, along with other Yancha, is a national reserve and a Protected designation of origin (PDO). The usage of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemical products is strictly forbidden – thus, the tea from this area is naturally organic.
According to yet another legend, people living on the slopes of Wu Yi Shan have been growing excellent tea from ancient times. One day, a powerful storm hit the area and blew away the entire tea garden, along with the soil and rocks beneath it. Days later, people found a tea shrub from that garden landed on a nearby river bank. It had a shape of a turtle. People started to look after it and soon managed to restore the tea garden. They named the variety after the Golden Turtle.
Bei Dou Wuyi Oolong Tea
Bei Dou Oolong Tea (often translated as the Big Dipper) is among the lesser-known representatives of Yancha. However, it is a tea of outstanding quality. According to history, in the 60s of the last century, there were massive cuttings of old trees in two famous tea-producing areas in WuYi Mountain. Namely, BeiDou peak and Jiulong Keng. Out of them, three trees survived. The one on Bei Dou peak got the name Bei Dou #1. The other became Bei Dou #2. Today's Bei Dou Oolong tea originates from these two plants. Its strong yet balanced taste makes it a premium ingredient for today's Da Hong Pao. It has a strong yet mellow taste and rich aroma with obvious notes of exotic flowers like orchids and gardenia.
Shui Xian Wuyi Oolong Tea
This one is among the oldest Oolong tea varieties. A legend says about a tea farmer from the Wuyi Mountains who wanted to know where the rivers started from. He embarked on a journey to the top of the mountain. Amid clouds and fog, he went for hours up the cliffs. On his path, he met a mountain spirit in the form of an elderly man. He guided the farmer to some tea bushes. The farmer brought some of them to his cottage and started growing them. They produced the purest tea his fellow villagers have ever tasted.
Today's Shui Xian is enjoyed for its remarkably pure and mellow taste. There is a saying in China "No tea is more fragrant than Rou Gui, and no tea is more mellow than Shui Xian". Its clear and bright tea soup has an elegant taste with exotic floral notes. The refined aroma is not as intense as with other Oolong teas. However, it slowly opens up and develops with each brew, making a Shui Xian tea session a long-lasting experience.